The Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir, has confirmed that there are limited circumstances when a government may be dismissed. In an interview concerning the commemorations in Sydney for Governor Macquarie she told Deb Cameron of 702 ABC Sydney (11/4) that she has no general power to dismiss the government.
Her Excellency had over time received a very large number of letters calling on her to dismiss the State government.
…arrest the Governor?
This recalls a similar groundswell against the second government of Premier Jack Lang (1930-1932), who led one of the rival factions of the Labor Party.
This came to a head when the Federal government paid interest due to overseas bondholders which Lang had suspended and then sought to extract this from NSW. Lang lost a challenge in the High Court, but then directed all government accounts be paid in cash, and withdrew the balance of all government accounts. The Governor, Sir Philip Game, warned him that in his opinion, this was illegal. Lang persisted and the Governor dismissed him, appointing a caretaker Premier and ordering an election. Lang lost.
Gerald Stone, in his book "1932", argues that there is evidence that Lang considered arresting the Governor to prevent the Governor from dismissing him. He says the armed forces were put on alert.
Indeed former Prime Minister Paul Keating says that Gough Whitlam should have had Sir John Kerr arrested in 1975. Apparently the Indonesian President General Suharto asked Mr. Richard Woollcott, Australia’s Ambassador to Jakarta and a prominent republican, why Mr. Whitlam did not do that.
What Mr. Keating clearly does not appreciate is that in our system, the Governor-General is the Commander- in Chief, not as in a politicians' republic. Our soldiers would have remained loyal to their Oath of Allegiance.
"The only way that they can disappear, so to speak, is if there's a vote of no confidence," she said."In fact we consult the constitutional lawyers, who are the experts on every small detail of these things, so that there's no doubt about it."Elections do come round from time to time so it's back in the hands of the people."
Her Excellency may also dismiss a government on the ground of illegal or unconstitutional conduct. Notwithstanding the provision of four year terms, a dissolution following a dismissal appears possible under section 24 of the Constitution.
..the Sovereign’s rights…
The Governor says she does sometimes offer the cabinet her opinion echoing the famous observation of Walter Bagehot concerning the Sovereign’s rights – to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. A viceroy has similar rights.
"I certainly meet with ministers once a week," she said."There's always time before and after to discuss issues of key importance and I'm quite able and free to put my viewpoint."
The New South Wales Government has lost three ministers and a parliamentary secretary in the past few weeks.There have also been three premiers since the last election in 2007.The Governor told presenter Deb Cameron how she feels when she is called to swear in another new minister.
"What I immediately think is 'I hope that this will now be a healing situation, things will settle down and we can go forward as a united team, regardless of political or other backgrounds'," she said.
How important it is that these functions reside in the institution which is outside of politics, the Australian Crown.